(In Which I Try to Prove St. Thomas Aquinas Wrong and Fail. Obviously.) (Catch up on Part I here.)
In late high school I felt drawn to the Catholic Church for aesthetic reasons. But I ignored my attraction to it because I didn’t think the Church could possibly be true. I had so many misconceptions about Catholic doctrine from growing up as a southern Protestant gal. However, while I was attending the largest Baptist university in the world (ironic, I know), slowly, slowly, my mind and heart opened to the Church.
I started reading many of the Church Fathers for my religion classes and Great Text classes. As I studied and wrestled with the ideas in the texts, I found my obstacles to conversion slowly crumbling. I remember two papers in particular that deeply altered my views. One was a paper I wrote on St. Thomas Aquinas. I set out to prove him wrong on some point of Catholic doctrine. Looking back, it strikes me as hilarious. Prove St. Thomas wrong? What was I thinking? How embarrassingly arrogant. Anyhow, I got half way through the paper and realized that St. Thomas was right after all (obviously) and that some of my conceptions of Christianity were startlingly without foundation.
The other paper was about theological texts behind the symbolism of two artistic depictions of Our Lady. As I pored over books about the development of Marian doctrine such as the Perpetual Virginity, I was shocked to realize that it was not, as I had always supposed, an invention of the High Middle Ages, but present in the early writings of the Church Fathers. I started to wonder if the Catholic Church was not only beautiful, but truly One, Holy, and Apostolic.
So, part of our journey to the Church was being introduced to the truth and beauty of Catholicism by reading the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Daniel was reading the same works and we talked often of what they must mean. But we also read Enlightenment and modern thinkers in our program and realized that many of our Protestant ideals and beliefs were not scriptural at all, but were grounded in the materialist and individualistic philosophies that sprang from the Enlightenment. When we actually read the works of Luther, Calvin, and other reformers, we realized we could not agree with them. Furthermore, even Luther had a much higher view of the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin than I had ever been presented with as a Protestant, so how did the Protestant Church get so far from even the reformer’s teachings?
But really, it was the Holy Eucharist that drew me most deeply to the Church.
I attended a Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart when I was visiting Notre Dame to give a paper on Jane Austen my senior year. There is nothing intellectual about my experience at this Mass. I simply felt drawn to the Blessed Sacrament. Almost unbearably. It was almost physically painful. It felt as if I had come home and I was dizzy with hunger but I couldn’t sit down at the dinner table where a feast was prepared. I realized that I believed, really believed, that the bread and wine were the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord. That he was offering Himself to me, and that I was unprepared to accept him.
Daniel and I talked about all these things often. But neither of us came right out and said that we knew we would convert (although separately, we had made that decision). I was afraid that he didn’t feel the same way as I did, and I dreaded the idea of worshipping at different places and being separated by our faith. I was surprised and relieved when one day he said, “We can’t stay Protestant. In the next few years we will have to become either Catholic or Orthodox.” He was surprised when I wholeheartedly agreed…
Tune in tomorrow for Part III!